Five years after the tragedy of Grenfell many issues around fire safety remain unresolved
Peredur Owen Griffiths
As we remember and reflect on the tragedy at Grenfell in London, many matters remain without resolution five years later.
When fire ripped through the tower block, the lives of 72 people were claimed.
Unfortunately, legislation and change of fire safety has nearly always followed from loss of life and serious incidents in the UK.
Witness the legislative changes that came in only after 56 people died and hundreds more were injured during the Bradford City football ground disaster in 1985.
The speed of how we look to tackle and develop those improvements and key learning points – that can be seen as foreseeable risks – should also be measured.
The Hackitt report, which was carried out by Dame Judith Hackitt and published a year after the Grenfell fire, sought to review building regulations and fire safety.
Although some say her report did not go far enough, it points the finger at the fire sector and particularly those involved in procuring, designing, constructing, and maintaining our buildings.
Also, weaknesses in current building regulations and compliance issues are highlighted. The report also raises the issue of professional competence across the sector.
A package of new or reviewed legislation is clearly indicated as a solution to the deficiencies identified. An independent review of building regulations and fire safety was conducted in May 2018.
Here in Wales we still have buildings not fully safe. Highrise, as well as medium to low rise buildings, still have external or fire safety compliance issues. In places like Cardiff Bay, this is making life a misery for flat owners who are essentially trapped as there is no prospect of them selling their property while safety concerns remain.
Whilst arguments rage over costs and the corrective measures, people are expected to live in buildings which have design, construction and compliance defects. Meanwhile, many of the private construction firms responsible for the buildings are looking the other way.
When we look at the fire safety sector, we see that fire safety qualifications and training and development standards are absent in Wales as opposed to other parts of the United Kingdom. Our innovative sprinkler legislation remains incomplete to date.
On a recent visit to Bedwas, I called into the Fire Industry Training Academy.
Here, they are attempting to link training and the development of engineers, technicians and assessors to achieve recognised qualifications and continued professional development.
Additionally, apprenticeship schemes and re-training pathways for those entering the fire safety sector are being created. These skills and safety standards are things I would like to see being promoted more widely.
As with many things coming out of Westminster, the pace of change is frustratingly slow when it comes to improving fire safety.
I echoed calls made in the Senedd by my Plaid Cymru colleague Mabon ap Gwynfor MS for developers to be compelled to foot the bill for remedial costs that are needed on buildings to make them safe.
By supporting real change in Wales, it would be a fitting honour to those people who lost their lives in Grenfell and those whose lives will never be the same again.
By promoting fire safety and those that work in this sector, we can ensure such an incident does not occur again.
Only then, will there be peace of mind and security for some people living in defective accommodation in Wales.
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